Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun

Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or the Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale

Author: George Barrington
Publisher: Tegg and Castleman
Publication Year: 1803
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10cm x 17cm
Pages: 34
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir Black Collection: PZ2.B38 1803

Material History

Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or the Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale is a chapbook written in 1803 by George Barrington, although the author’s name does not appear anywhere in this version of the text. The object measures to be 10cm by 17cm and is 34 pages long, although it starts at page 73 and ends at page 108 (the final page with a printed number is the penultimate page, 107), indicating that it was once part of a larger book or collection. The University of Virginia Special Collections catalog entry notes that this text was donated by Robert Black.  

As the chapbook was likely taken or fell out of a larger text, there is no cover, and the binding is in disrepair. Looking closely at the spine of the object, remnants of string still holding some of the pages together and dried glue on the binding suggest that the pages were sewn together and then glued onto the cover. The side of the pages making up the binding are ripped, implying that if age has separated the glue and cover, these pages either weren’t bound together well, that the lack of cover has increased their wear and tear, or both. The pages themselves are worn, yellowed, and stained. Apart from the frayed page-ends, there are only one or two tears of the pages throughout the book, most likely resulting from their comparatively thicker quality, which has been adept at keeping them intact. Despite this, the chapbook still can be described as cheap because of the torn bindings, lack of cover, light weight and low number of pages, and apparent lack of care which it received before being donated to the Sadler-Black Collection.  

Similar to the outside appearance of the object, the text and illustrations inside the book indicate, and even explicitly state, its cheap quality. Upon opening the text, the first two pages are the frontispiece and title page, respectively. The frontispiece is a black and white print titled “Eliza.” and is denoted with “Vaughan del.” under the bottom left corner and “Hollier sc.” under the bottom right corner. In Latin, these terms correspond to delineavit (“he/she drew [it]”) and sculp (“he/she carved [it]”), respectively, and thus tell us that Vaughan is the artist of the piece and Hollier the printer. The frontispiece itself depicts a woman in a stone chamber resembling a prison cell or dungeon, with a single barred window high on the right wall. There are chains on the far wall, a piece of paper next to the woman, and a table below the window that is adorned with a skull and bones and a crucifix with a model Jesus. The woman, who can be presumed to be the eponymous Eliza, is kneeling in front of the table and looking up at the window, which has a beam of light coming down towards her face. Wearing a frown and furrowing her eyebrows, she looks either fearful or concerned, and her hands are raised towards the window with the right one holding what seems to be a strip of fabric, paper, metal, or similar material. Under the frontispiece, there is a note that explains the chapbook was published “Aug. 1–1803 by Tegg & Co., 23 Warwick Square.” 

Most of the title page next to the frontispiece contains the long title of the book in varying text sizes and fonts. Underneath, in its own section, a quote—“Place her in the deepest Dungeon ; let stale Bread and mouldy Water be her only Portion”—is attributed to a Mother St. Clare. Below the quote is the publishing information again, and a note that the chapbook is “Embellished With a Frontispiece.” The last writing on the page is “Price Sixpence.” The printer information is included at the very end of the book, at the bottom of the last page, where it reads: “J. H. Hart, Printer, 23, Warwick-Square” (Barrington Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun 108).  

The remainder of the book is written in small text with relatively standard-sized margins. The text is closely set, with a small and standard font for this era. At close inspection, the print job is not very clean, and the text is printed at a slight angle on the page.  

The only written notation in the book is on page 105: under the chapter titled “Suicide of William L…: A Native of Sheffield,” a penciled-in inscription states “theme of George B…,” with the last name being indecipherable.  

Textual History

Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun as an artifact conveys as much of a story as the dramatic accounts it describes. This version of the chapbook exists on its own, with a frontispiece and title page at the start of the text; yet its coverless condition and the numbering of the pages from 73 to 107 (the final page is an unnumbered page: 108) make it clear that the chapbook was originally part of a larger collection. Under the frontispiece, the publication date reads “Aug. 1–1803” and on the title page the publisher and seller information are listed as, “London: Printed for Tegg and Castleman, No. 23, Warwick-Square: And sold by Thomas Hughes, Stationers-court.” The printer, whose information appears at the bottom of the very last page, was J. H. Hart, who also operated out of “23, Warwick-Square” (Barrington Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun 108).  

The larger work from which this text has been pulled is Biographical Annals of Suicide, or Horrors of Self-Murder, whether impelled by love, penury, depravity, melancholy, bigotry, remorse, or jealousy by George Barrington, which was published as part of the fourth volume of The Marvellous Magazine and Compendium of Prodigies. Both Biographical Annals of Suicide and the larger Marvellous Magazine and Compendium of Prodigies were also published by Tegg and Castleman in 1803.  

The Marvellous Magazine and Compendium of Prodigies contains several texts, and Biographical Annals of Suicide begins just after halfway through the fourth volume. The title page for Biographical Annals clearly shows George Barrington’s name as well as the publication year of 1803. Immediately following the title page is an “Advertisement” which functions as a sort of introduction and claims to be an “Extract of a Letter from the celebrated George Barrington, to his Friend J—, in London, dated Paramatta, May 22, 1802” (Barrington Biographical Annals 4). In this letter, Barrington explains that he has been collecting these true memoirs and is publishing them for the purpose of deterring others from committing suicide. After this “Advertisement,” several stories of suicide follow. 

The separate chapbook Eliza is comprised of four stories: “Suicide Through Love,” “Suicide Through Oppression,” “Suicide Through Distress,” and “Suicide Through Depravity.” All four of these stories appear in Biographical Annals and in the same order, one right after the other. In fact, the text of the stories and their pagination appears to be identical in the separate chapbook version of Eliza and in Biographical Annals; even the printer information appears at the bottom of the last page (108) in both versions. Yet while Eliza only contains these four stories, Biographical Annals contains many more. Interestingly, Eliza’s four stories appear not at the beginning or the end of Biographical Annals but amid the larger compilation of tales, nestled between other stories of suicide. The primary distinctions between the chapbook version of Eliza and the larger collection of Biographical Annals lie in the title page and the frontispiece. Eliza opens with a two-page spread, featuring first the frontispiece page with the image captioned “Eliza” and then a title page with the title of Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun and with no author. Biographical Annals has its own title page for the collection which identifies George Barrington as author, but there are no individual title pages for any of the stories. This means that the title page featuring Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun does not exist within Biographical Annals; it thus appears as though the title page for Eliza, or the Unhappy Nun was printed only for the separate chapbook publication of the four stories. The frontispiece that appears prior to the title page in the separate version of Eliza does appear in Biographical Annals but it is not at the beginning of any story; rather, the frontispiece page is randomly stuck one page into the third story “Suicide Through Distress,” between pages 94 and 95, even though this is not the story that features the character of Eliza.  

Understanding the context of when George Barrington wrote Biographical Annals and Eliza, as well as learning more about Barrington himself, delineates the world of lies and copyright in which Eliza was written. Librarian and historian Nathan Garvey, in his book The Celebrated George Barrington: A Spurious Author; The Book Trade, and Botany Bay, uncovers the life and lies of the infamous author. Garvey describes Barrington in his younger years to be so adept and notorious at crime that he gained the name, the “Prince of Pickpockets.” Barrington lied, cheated, and stole until he was arrested and sent to Botany Bay in Australia. While there, Barrington turned his attention to the chapbook market. Most of his books were written as if they were real memoirs, and he used this falsity to sell many books (Garvey 11–15). This explains the introductory “letter” at the beginning of Biographical Annals, and gives the reason for why the chapters in his books are written as if they are true memoirs. After Barrington’s death in 1804, many people continued writing under his name. However, Biographical Annals, published in 1803, is still generally attributed to the true Barrington. 

Other than this information about Barrington, there is relatively little information accessible about Eliza. There is no copy of the chapbook or any of the collections it is included in on HathiTrust. There were no reviews or advertisements in newspapers at the time for Eliza, Biographical Annals, or The Marvellous Magazine. The Library of Congress database holds a copy of Biographical Annals, as do a few other libraries globally. As of 2024, the chapbook has been downloaded 865 times since 2013 on the Marquette University’s Gothic Archive

Narrative Point of View

Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun is narrated both in the third and first person by four different narrators. For three of the four parts of the chapbook, the narrator is not known or introduced. They are anonymous and dissociated from the characters in the novel, and accomplish their storytelling with a quick yet preachy tone. Because the stories are quick and dramatic, the third-person narrator does not delve deeply into each character’s inner emotions, and instead speaks only on the events that occur. However, in the second story, there are three narrators, who all speak from first-person perspectives. A first, unnamed frame narrator has an informative tone as he introduces the rest of the story from the perspective of a lone yet intellectual traveler. The later two narrators are nuns Eliza and Madeleine, who narrate within the context of a letter, are very dramatic and emotional, and go into more detail surrounding their inner thoughts and desires than the first frame narrator.  

Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:  

Poor Clementina’s corpse was opened : the surgeons, who performed the operation, pronounced that she had been poisoned. A prosecution was commenced against the abbess, as no doubt remained of her being the author of the abominable deed. After a long trial, she was at length convicted on the crime. Notwithstanding sentence of death was pronounced against her, her powerful relations caused it to be mitigated into imprisonment for life ; but the populace, exasperated at the act of injustice, assembled in great numbers round the convent, and waited until the abbess was brought out to be conveyed to prison. They tore her forcibly from the hands of the officers of justice : her supplications were in vain ; and the wretch, after suffering every ignominy they could inflict, expired by their hands : a dreadful example to monastic cruelty ! (Barrington Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun 82) 

This passage is taken from the first story, which follows the death of a woman named Clementina and the subsequent suicide of her husband. In this section, the narrator explains very quickly a long series of events before stating a moral to wrap up the paragraph. Although this narrator does not go into much to describe each character’s inner thoughts or the events in much detail, he shows bias in describing individual characters. For example, he favors Clementina in describing her as “poor” and the abbess as “a wretch.” His bias in narration and the preachy comment at the end indicates that this narrator is not objective in his storytelling, and wants to influence the reader towards his morals.  

Sample Passage of First-Person Perspectives in Frame Narration and a Letter:  

The manuscript finished with the following lines written by Madeleine in French ; “ Poor unfortunate Eliza! God have mercy on her soul. She could bear her sufferings no longer! This morning when I entered her cell, she was kneeling before a crucifix, and with a steady hand, she was drawing a sharp know through her throat. I flew to her, but, alas! it was too late,—I was covered with her blood. She looked at me, and, lifting her hands to Heaven, as if to implore forgiveness, she expired in my arms! Almighty Creator! forgive her! may her sin be upon the cruel wretch who drive her to that dreadful suicide! (Barrington Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun 94) 

In this sample passage from the second story, both the unnamed frame narrator and Madeleine are speaking. The frame narrator, throughout this section of the chapbook, narrates as if they are telling a true story, which seems to be an attempt to make the story feel more realistic. What is interesting about this excerpt – which constitutes the only time that Madeleine narrates – is that while her tone and speech here reflect the letter’s dramatic and expressive narration, the origin of Madeleine’s note remains a mystery. The frame narrator explains that he found this manuscript randomly in the rubble of a convent, and it is not clear that Eliza, who started it, intended the manuscript to be read; indeed, some pages function more like a personal diary. Thus, Madeleine’s intended audience remains unclear as she adds her note to a personal manuscript, with her sole direct address being to God. 


Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun is a chapbook consisting of four short stories.  

The first story, titled “Suicide Through Love: A Remarkable Suicide Impelled by Constant Love,” describes the life and death of a girl named Clementina, the daughter of the Count and Countess Pellegrini. When the Count Pellegrini loses a contest to his rival, the Marquis Abruzzo, he loses almost all of his money. Scared of what Clementina will have to do as a result of poverty, the Count Pellegrini allows an acquainted abbess to take her into her convent to be educated and, if Clementina later wishes, to take the veil. When the time comes for her to vow to become a nun, Clementina is allowed to attend a distant relative’s birthday party, where she meets Jeronymo, the handsomest man in Genoa – and the son of the Marquis Abruzzo. They meet and immediately fall in love, and when Jeronymo learns of Clementina’s fate to take the veil, he demands that his father allows him to marry her, which the Marquis finally agrees to. However, at their wedding, the abbess, who is upset at their marriage, slips poison into Clementina’s drink, and she dies soon after. Although the abbess is found guilty and killed, grief-stricken Jeronymo jumps out of a high window, ending his own life. 

The second story is titled “Suicide Through Oppression,” and begins at the peak of the French Revolution. The frame narrator opens with a first-person account of visiting France and finding a burned convent during the midst of a riot. He had heard stories about a nun at this convent who had died at the hands of an evil abbess years prior, and while searching through the burned convent’s dungeon, he finds a manuscript recounting what happened. The manuscript is narrated by Eliza, who writes about how her devoutly Roman Catholic father married her mother, despite her mother being Protestant, with the stipulation that their daughter must be raised Catholic as well. However, when Eliza is born, her mother still teaches her own religious teachings to her daughter; when her father finds out, he sends Eliza from England to a convent in France with a strict abbess who is tasked to convince her to take the veil. The abbess finally succeeds, yet Eliza soon meets a young man named Charles, and they create a plan to break her out of the convent. When the abbess finds out, she sentences Eliza to the convent dungeon for the rest of her life. Eliza’s manuscript ends, and the frame narrator provides the translated text of a note, originally written in French by Eliza’s friend Madeleine, that explains how she discovered that Eliza had slit her own throat. Eliza died soon after in Madeleine’s arms. The story ends with Madeleine’s note’s final plea for God to forgive Eliza for committing suicide. 

The third story is titled “Suicide Through Distress: Henri de Francoeur. A French Tale.” It follows a boy named Henri after his father, who is too poor to care for him, gives him up to be raised by a rich merchant. The merchant sends Henri to school, where he does very well, but falls in love with a woman near his college. The merchant soon finds out, but supports this love, and soon after, they get married. Henri later receives an elite job – with the help of the merchant – and has many children with his wife. Years later, after both the merchant and his real father have passed away, a cruel tyrant who has just been appointed fires him from his position. After Henri fails to convince him to let him keep his job, he goes to his friends to ask for help as his last resort. Meanwhile, Henri’s wife asks her father to help their family, and after much convincing, he says yes. However, Henri doesn’t know this, and when his friends deny his help, he falls into a pit of despair over failing his family, and throws himself into the Seine. Hearing of his suicide, and in a showing of love, Henri’s oldest son throws himself into the river as well. His wife later dies of heartbreak, leaving Henri’s remaining children impoverished and alone.  

The final, and shortest, story of this chapbook is titled “Suicide Through Depravity: Suicide of William of L….. A native of Sheffield.” It starts with introducing a wealthy and altruistic merchant who finds a poor boy named William and takes him under his wing. He gives the boy a good education and money, however, William starts seeing an unknown woman in secret. When the merchant finds out, he tells William that he will look into the integrity of this woman, and only if she is agreeable, can he continue seeing her. The merchant finds out the woman is ruinous, but after asking William to stop seeing her, the youth still does. She convinces him to rob his guardian, and after lots of convincing, William agrees. He steals a large sum of money from the merchant’s home, but the next morning, the merchant sends him a letter stating that while he forgives the boy, the police will not, and are coming to capture him. After arresting both William and his accomplice, they are locked in separate cells, where they both kill themselves before their trials. 


Barrington, George. Biographical Annals of Suicide, or Horrors of Self-Murder, Whether Impelled by Love, Penury, Depravity, Melancholy, Bigotry, Remorse, or Jealousy. In The Marvellous Magazine and Compendium of Prodigies, volume 4. London, Tegg and Castleman, 1803. 

Barrington, George. Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or the Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale. London, Tegg and Castleman, 1803. 

Garvey, Nathan. The Celebrated George Barrington: A Spurious Author; The Book Trade, and Botany Bay, Hordern House, Sydney, Australia, 2008. 

Researcher: Eliza Jean Harrison Echols Piché

How to cite this page:

MLA: “Eliza: Or the Unhappy Nun.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2024, https://gothic.lib.virginia.edu/access-the-archive-2/eliza-or-the-unhappy-nun/